As with humans, you sometimes realise how much racecourses were loved only when they have gone or are about to go.
Dear Old Southwell – in existence since 1856 – will not be shuffling off this mortal coil any time soon, but its unique Fibresand surface may, according to some recent reports.
The resulting outpouring of grief was not as widespread as the one which accompanied the proposal that Kempton Park be built upon “for the good of racing”, but it was every bit as heartfelt in some quarters. Hugh Taylor made some telling points in a blog on these very pages.
Flat racing at Southwell is undoubtedly something of a law unto itself. Not only is it the only course in Britain on which stamina-testing Fibresand is now used, the longer-than-average straight also ensures that races develop earlier and horses come home more slowly than elsewhere.
If we did not know that before, we do as a result of the detailed sectionals provided by Total Performance Data and displayed on this site in recent times.
The following are the average closing sectionals and finishing speeds (speed at finish as % of average race speed) for handicaps at the course in 2017 in which overall times identified the race as well-run.
Southwell finishing speed pars, 2017
|Distance||Last 3f||Last 2f||Last 1f|
|4.97f||35.2s (101.5%)||24.3s (98.0%)||12.6s (94.5%)|
|6.07f||37.6s (100.8%)||25.6s (98.7%)||13.3s (95.0%)|
|7.06f||37.6s (99.8%)||25.4s (98.5%)||13.3s (96.2%)|
|8.06f||38.7s (99.4%)||26.2s (97.8%)||13.5s (94.9%)|
|11.10f||40.3s (98.9%)||27.1s (98.1%)||13.9s (95.6%)|
|12.06f||39.6s (100.4%)||26.7s (99.3%)||13.5s (98.2%)|
I hope to provide some further context from other all-weather courses in coming weeks. But, suffice to say, few races elsewhere regularly result in winners running well over 13.0s in the final furlong, and those finishing speeds of around 100% for the last 3f, around 98% for the last 2f and around 96% for the final 1f are lower than at the vast majority of other courses, too.
There is more to racing than raw speed – as slow-motion finishes over jumps regularly show – and British racing would indeed be losing some of its variety if Southwell’s surface were to become more speed-favouring in the future.
It is in the eye of the beholder as to whether that would be a good thing or a bad thing. But what is clear is that the sport’s “honest plodders” are more popular with some than might have been imagined.
The understandable temptation to strike while the iron was hot led to connections running recent Wolverhampton winner PAPA STOUR under a penalty just five days later at Southwell on Tuesday, when he was beaten at long odds-on in one of the gruelling finishes for which the course is famed (he ran the final 1f in 14.2s and 89.8% finishing speed).
Wolverhampton had been much slicker, with Papa Stour coming home in 11.9s (104.6%), which, allied to a decent overall time, makes me think he will be able to win off his revised mark of 82 – 2 higher than at Southwell – at least if kept away from strongly-run races in the slop.
The one all-weather course that rivals Southwell for slow finishes – though for a different reason – is Newcastle, where the surface is Tapeta but the track rises about 30 feet from start to finish on the mile straight.
They had a notably slow finish there a week ago, when SYMBOLIC STAR stayed on best to win a mile handicap by a clear margin with closing sectionals of 37.4s (101.2%), 26.0s (97.0%) and 13.8s (91.4%).
The Barry Murtagh-trained gelding was probably best in the race, but the pace accentuated that fact, with the margins flattering him. A 6-lb rise in Symbolic Star’s BHA mark would normally seem very reasonable, but I suspect it will prove beyond him in this instance and that he can be opposed.
ONEROA failed narrowly to deliver at 5/1 as a sectional horse to follow for this column at Wolverhampton on Monday but showed more than enough to suggest she should be persevered with, finishing well but beaten a head by Elixsoft. Her sectionals imply she should just about have won.
There is an interesting little Novice Stakes at Newcastle on Friday at 7.45 in which eight have been declared: each-way thieves will be hoping there are no non-runners!
Newcomers from the David Simcock, Hugo Palmer and Richard Fahey stables should ensure this takes some winning, but they may all have to go a bit to beat the William Haggas-trained MOSSEYB, mentioned previously here as one of the most promising debutants of late-2017.
The son of Epaulette showed excellent mid-race pace, having blown the start, and was still going on well at the finish when third to Drakefell at Lingfield Park in November and can be expected to have improved a bundle for that experience.
The Betway Sprint Handicap at Lingfield Park on Saturday at 1.25 sees a few familiar faces from the AW scene. I fancy RECKLESS ENDEAVOUR to get back to winning ways providing there is a good pace, which seems more likely than not.
That had been expected on this course last time, but did not transpire, as the TPD sectionals on this site illustrate.
Reckless Endeavour finished best of all (and was the most inefficient of the principals bar the winner, Dubai One, as judged by the “Efficiency Grade” on the “Sectional Tools” tab), and should certainly go close off the same mark now.